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Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North

The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003-2005 A.D.: Your whole family is made of meat by Ryan North. Quack!Media, 2006. $14.99, 250p.

If there’s any webcomic that fits into a Oubapo mold, it is Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics. North decided to do a webcomic, but he couldn’t draw. Instead of following the Trondheim path of learning to draw while making a comic, North took some dinosaur clip art, put it into panels, and started writing dialogue. The strip follows what the Oubapo would call “iconographic repetition.” Each strip has the exact same images. And yes, look at that title, this book does collect a bit less than three years worth of daily strips.

You may wonder how this strip can retain any interest for that long with the same damn pictures every day. Well, it’s a testament to North’s writing that it is interesting, funny, and often hilarious, on a regular basis. The strip veers from jokes and absurdities to insightful social commentary and back without batting an eye. North uses the main character, T-Rex, a large green tyrannosaurus rex, as a cipher for all kinds of opinions, questions, and strange ideas. The result is the kind of comic I find myself sending out links to friends.

The basic set-up is: panel 1: T-Rex from a medium distance; panel 2: T-Rex head shot; panel 3: T-Rex about to stomp on a log cabin with a car parked next to it, while Dromiceiomimus (a female dinosaur) looks on; panel 4: T-Rex about to stomp on a human woman with Utah Raptor (T-Rex’s friend) looking on; panel 5: T-Rex looking back at Utah Raptor; panel 6: full figure shot of T-Rex. Each day North fills in different dialogue for T-Rex, Dromiceiomimus, and Utah Raptor, with occasionally off–panel words from God (in bold coming from the sky) or Satan (in red coming from the ground, who is obsessed with videogames).

This collected volume starts off at the beginning of the strip. It’s interesting to see the characters referring to the house and woman that T-Rex is so indiscriminately stomping on, as if North felt the need to tie all the images in with the dialogue. But he soon gives this up and those parts of the images fall to the background, rarely mentioned at all. After a few strips one stops really seeing the images at all, they become familiar through repetition and through familiarity a reader no longer even needs to see them. I could probably hear someone read this strip and be able to fill in the images and panel breaks.

It’s tempting to ask, why have the images at all? Like Trondheim’s Bleu, I think the answer lies in the way of reading a comic. The pacing of the strip and its dialogue are set within the comics panel framework. We read them in a certain way regardless of the images, including captions and “beat” panels. One might even be able to do this strip as word balloons shorn of an referring characters and get the same affect. But… Dinosaurs are funny. And, they do occassionally refer to their species in the strips.

I highly suggest you go take a look at the Dinosaur Comics site. Read a few strips. If you enjoy them, this book is a great way to sit back and enjoy the strip without clicking through 250 web pages.